Solitude in the snow is not hard to find, but you do need good gear. At the minimum, a pair of snowshoes and waterproof boots will get you there, but if you’re looking for more of a thrill, backcountry skis and climbing skins are the way to go. My new skins came in the other day, and they required a bit of work before they were ready for the snow.
Ski skins are strips of material you stick to the bottom of your skis. They have an adhesive material on one side that sticks to your skis. On the other side, they have a directional fur made of either nylon or mohair that prevents your skis from sliding backward as you’re climbing uphill. Combine that with a set of randonee bindings, and the wilderness is your ski resort.
Mohair generally glides better, but it has less grip on steeper inclines and it isn’t as durable. Nylon is the material of choice for people who like to climb steeper peaks and ski down more aggressive terrain. I bought myself the Black Diamond Ascension Nylon Custom STS ski skins. They’re custom because they come pre-cut to a certain length so you don’t have to do any of the length cutting yourself. You do still have to trim the sides, but we’ll get into that later. They came bundled with the tail clips, the cheat sheets for storage, and a trimmer for shaping the skins to fit the edge profile of your skis. They require a little bit of setup before you can take them out into the backcountry.
The first order of business is to peel the paper off the adhesive side of the skin.
Once it’s all off, you hang the tip loop around the tip of your ski.
Next, you pull the skin taut and adhere it to the ski.
This next part is the simple, but the instructions are sort of vague on it. The goal is to put the clip into one of the notches on the tail of the skin, but the notch should be the one that will be neither too close nor too far from the skin. Too close, and you won’t be able to clip the skin to the tail of the ski. Too far, and your skins won’t be pulled taut by the clip. Once you’ve determined which hole is the correct one, push the clip through the hole as shown in the picture below.
This is the fun part: trimming the skins. You align the skins so that they’re about two millimeters left or right of center, then you trim along that edge of the skins from front to back. I found it helps to apply a lot of pressure onto the trimmer toward the inside of the skis. Realign the skins so that they’re two millimeters past center in the other direction, then do it again. The goal is that the skis have the metal edge exposed past the skins on either side. This gives you better purchase when edging up the side of a hill.
Once you’ve trimmed the sides of the skins, you’re done. Do it for the other skin, and you now have the means to ride your skis into the backcountry.